IT’S A NEW YEAR!
I’ve been thinking about the New Year, a bit. In so many ways we often start the New Year thinking about shortcomings.
It’s the “I‘m nots…”
So, we make resolutions to try and “fix” whatever it is we are “not.”
I read a book last year about habit forming, Atomic Habits, and one of the things that has really stuck with me is the importance on setting my mind on the kind of person that I desire to be. But not with an “I hope…” or an “I should…” but with an “I am…”
What if this year we chose not to make resolutions but to identify one or two aspects of who we are?
Here is what I’ve been thinking about as I stare into the face of 2023:
“I am the kind of person who takes care of his body.”
“I am the kind of person who is present in the lives of others.”
Yes, those statements are broad. But, they help make hard choices easier. The pursuit of these “I am…” statements are beginning to create in me a desire “for” and “to be”.
Do you have any “I am” statements that drive you toward a sense of becoming?
AN INVITATION TO COME ON OVER!
It was a beautiful Spring day and I was enjoying some time on the patio. When all of a sudden, Ethan rushed in, a bit flustered and frustrated.
"Dad, as I was coming into the neighborhood I blew my tire out."
We both took a deep breath and headed over to where his car was parked and began the process of changing the tire. The tire iron we had didn't fit his lug nuts. So, we knew that we needed to call our local mechanic, Brian. We rang him up and he gave us a few different tools to try.
None of them worked.
Our neighbor, Allan, popped his head out of his car as he was pulling into the neighborhood and offered up a piece of advice, "My car has this special adapter that I have to use to get the lug nuts off my wheels, maybe yours does?"
Of course! The lug nut key! It was in his glove box and before we knew it, we had the tire off and changed.
Sometimes, we need an expert's help on figuring out a problem. Sometimes, we need a neighbor's help to solve a problem. Do you know what's ideal? When you have both.
Many of us grew up going to church (or being dragged there) and some of us didn't. Some of us are in the early processes of discovering faith and some of us are questioning everything we believe.
Wherever we we are in the process, too often we believe we are alone to figure it all out. But, we're not.
The questions you have are the same ones that others have wrestled with over the years. I am coming to believe that a significant aspect of the human experience is to wrestle with the mysteries of our existence, to wrestle with the questions of ultimate meaning, and to wonder about the divine. Regardless of where one ends up, these questions, doubts, beliefs, and musings are the stuff that make life deep and rich and interesting.
It gets even more interesting (and dare I say, fun) when we tease these things out in community. That's what I want to try to create. I want to invite you into a community that is asking questions and re-imagining faith with the added bonus of a neighbor who is a bit of an expert on some of these questions.
If I have a problem with my car, I call Brian. When I have a question about real estate, I call Todd. When I have a question about interpersonal stuff, I call The Beard. Often, these calls take place in a bit of a broader community too. When these guys have questions about religion, spirituality, or faith they often call me.
Welcome to the Neighborhood!
The Pastor Next Door is an invitation to community and and invitation to access. Not all of us have a pastor next door that we can ask questions of whenever we want.
If you're reading this, you do.
I hope that you will engage by commenting on posts, becoming involved in a new Facebook Group that I will be launching soon, and joining me for live in person meet ups and virtual live gatherings. You can also sign up to block out one-on-one time with me.
To make a long post really short, come on over, pull up a chair and let's ask questions and re-imagine faith together.
USE YOUR HEAD AND HEART
How do I know what's right?
That's a question that plagues many of us. It seems to find us everywhere we go. As we scroll the social media feeds or we see the news or as we parent or as we talk with friends, this question is lingering in the background.
So what do we do?
When we are young what is right and what is wrong is easy. If you don't realize this you haven't spent much time with three and four year olds. There's right, there's wrong, there's nothing in between.
Somewhere around six or seven we discover "rules". They are wonderful. Because now there is a basis for what is right and wrong. The "rules" say so. Arguments about rules break out every day on playgrounds around the world.
I'm guessing around ten or eleven, older siblings figure out that they can now use the "rules" to their advantage. So, they change the "rules" mid game to ensure victory. Because now what is right and wrong is really determined by our desired outcome.
It's at this point that everything really changes.
If you don't know this, then you haven't spent much time around middle school kids.
From here on out this question of what is "right" spirals into a multitude of shades of gray.
And yet, "what is right?", follows us like a shadow.
Jonathan Haidt in his seminal text, The Righteous Mind, argues that this desire to be right or to pursue righteousness is at the heart of all that we do as people. Often what helps us determine what is "right" is deeply rooted in what community we bind ourselves to. As a result, we are able to blind ourselves from the claims of what is "right" from those outside our selected tribe. This means that most of our decisions about what is "right" are not the rational decisions that we think they are. According to Haidt we back fill emotional moral intuitions with rational arguments.
As I ponder this it strikes me that once we take notice of how this plays out in ourselves then we can try to intentionally push against it. By taking note of the intuitive or emotional, first recognizing it, then seeing it for what it is, I can try to slow it down and balance it with reason.
There was this one time when Jesus was dealing with the some religious folks. They were upset with him because he had healed a guy on the Sabbath. From sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday the people of Israel were not supposed to do any work. Yet, over the ages they had written in some exceptions like saving an animal from falling into a hole or even circumcision. Why? Because they had determined those things were "right." Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath and folks lost their minds. This was "wrong."
So what was Jesus going to do? How would he respond?
He said, "Don't be nitpickers; use your head--and heart!-- to discern what is right, to test what is authentically right."
I think Jesus knew something about us people that we don't. I think he inherently knew that we get the head and heart backwards when it comes to the question of "what is right?". If he had said, "You're simply responding out of your bound emotional moral intuition, you need to bring your rational thought more into this," the folks would not have heard him. You see, we think that every decision we make is with our rationality. But, the reality is that it's the opposite. When he said, "and heart," I think he's really challenging them to engage their rational thought on a deeper level.
When we are wrestling with the question of "what is right?", we need head and heart. What is authentically right often goes to a place deeper than simply a black and white rule. It demands that we enter into a depth that requires us to bring more of ourselves. If we are going to answer the question, "what is right?", and be even close to what is right, then we have to remove the blinders that we have put in place due to our tribal allegiance.
If we could do this, we could move beyond a dualism of right or wrong and towards something approaching justice and righteousness. These goals are found over the horizon of right or wrong.
How might your perspective on right or wrong change if you chose to think through some of the moral issues facing you through the lens of a different tribe? Or how have you been blinded because of your tribal allegiance? What does it look like for you to bring head and heart together and to stop nitpicking?
JUST MAKING OURSELVES LOOK GOOD
Have you ever been around a "one upper"? Or maybe, you are a "one upper"?
You know what I'm talking about, don't you? That person who upon hearing a story from someone else always has another story that one ups the person before. The thing is, most of those folks are likely making it up. They want the people listening to the story to be amazed and to embrace them.
The religious world these days is full of people who are simply making stuff up. I'm sure if I took the time to dig into other religious traditions that I could find examples across the board. I'm most knowledgeable of Christianity and even more so about American Protestant Christianity, and so that's the context that I'm thinking through.
As I look at social media screes and see some of the stuff that finds its way onto television, I am struck by how little it resembles the gospel. The rage fueled preaching and tweeting are heartbreaking. Yet, many do so because it gets them traction. The crowd applauds and let me tell you, the applause is addictive. What they say and post are simply designed to make themselves look good with little connection to reality.
Jesus once said, "A person making things up tries to make himself look good. But someone trying to honor the one who sent him sticks to the facts and doesn't tamper with reality."
Read that again.
If I put that into my own words, I'd say, "When we forget who we are really are, we lose the plot."
So many of us have lost the plot. We've lost our sense of self. We have become so bound to our political tribe that we have become blind to reality. As a result, we "tamper with reality."
You likely remember the famous, "alternative facts," from a former White House staffer. It's become a bit of a punchline. Sadly though, this has become the way by which many of us live and move out in the world.
Why? Because many Christians and Christian leaders have forgotten who sent them. Instead of honoring the Divine by sticking to reality, they simply seek to make themselves look good.
It is almost as if many of us are ashamed to be a people that can choose to love neighbor and enemy.
It's as though we are ashamed of our identity as a people who have received grace, mercy, and forgiveness and as a result are called to offer the same.
It is as if we are ashamed to be following the Christ that willingly chose to sacrifice himself for the sake of bringing reconciliation to all of creation.
I need to constantly remind myself who sent me. It is here that I find my truest self. When I rest most fully in the mystery of the Divine through Christ then I find little need to make myself look good. In those moments, and to be sure they are moments,
I lose my need to be right and find a holy desire to get it right.
I lose my self righteousness and find gracious submission.
I lose my desire to make myself look and find reality.
How about you? As you reflect on the way you move out in the world, are you someone seeking to make yourself look good by manufacturing your own reality or have you found yourself and are willing to embrace true reality? Let's talk about it in the comments.
Nerd Note: It strikes me that the story of Wanda Maximoff (The Scarlett Witch) could be easily seen as a modern parable of this truth.
HUMILITY OR FEAR?
The great theologian Michael Scott once said, "Would I rather be feared or loved? Um... easy, both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me."
This always makes me chuckle because it rings so true.
What kind of leader is a good leader? The one who casts fear in their followers or the one that creates love? I think we would say the latter, yet so much of what we see in our institutions is the former. It's as if we don't really believe that it's possible to lead from a place of love or humility.
I think one way to think about humility is to think of it as the application of love from a position of power.
What do you think? How would you define humility in the context of leadership?
This morning I read this story,
Jesus chose humility. His brothers wanted him to go do something big and public. Their assumption was that Jesus was all about becoming a public person. But, that wasn't it at all. Jesus had a specific purpose and calling. This calling demanded humility, love applied from power.
As I grow older the greatest miracle that I think Jesus ever did was being born into the human frame. The dual nature of Christ, both God and Man, is something that is beyond remarkable and we don't think deeply about it. It is a mystery of mysteries. Yet, it is where these two natures meet that we can find and know the true humility of Christ.
Everything that Jesus did was the application of love from a position of divine power.
This is in stark contrast to the religious leaders of his day. How did they move through the crowds? They did so through intimidation. Or as the NIV puts it, by fear.
Elsewhere in the ancient text we come across this line, "Perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)"
The application of love from the position of divine power drives out fear! Christ moved through the crowds in humility, the religious leaders did so through intimidation.
As I think about what it means to be a leader I think we need to intentionally follow the way of Jesus. Whether we are leading as parents, in business, in athletics, in school, in the church, or in any other social setting, our goal should be the application of love from the position of power.
Humility or fear? One is really hard. One is really easy. Which do you choose?